City gets grant for vacant building rehab

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – The city has the first half-million dollars to begin renovation of the vacant 133 E. Mill St. building.

City Administrator Brian Yerges informed the Redevelopment Authority Thursday that the city has received a $500,000 grant for the Plymouth Downtown Community Incentives Fund through the Lakeshore Community Foundation in Manitowoc.

The RDA is spearheading an effort to convert the building – which the city acquired in 2014 in a tax foreclosure action – into apartments on the upper floor and a cheese-themed store on the lower floor.

“This is a significant step forward to saving that building,” Yerges told the RDA. “That’s not the total dollar amount we need, so we’re still looking for other private funding, exploring historic tax credits and looking at a variety of grant programs as well. But things are coming along.”

He emphasized that the money is from private sources and that the goal remains to finance the renovation of the building without city funds.

Yerges and RDA chair Lee Gentine estimated the total cost of renovating the building at between $1 million and $1.2 million.

Gentine said officials continue to work on a business pro-forma plan for the proposed store and/or museum on the ground floor of the building.

“Objective number one was to save the building,” Yerges related. “Objective number two is to make it into a destination and objective number three is sustainability and to make a profit.”

“Nothing’s certain but we do know it has to be sustainable,” Gentine added. “Some of the sustainability will come from the apartment rentals, but we do have to have a store manager and people helping to run it,” and that will require money as well.

“It’s very hard to predict how many people are going to come to this building and it’s very hard to predict how many products people are going to buy and what kind of products they’re going to buy,” Gentine admitted.

The work on a business plan for the retail space is being done in conjunction with Retail Works of Mequon, Gentine said.

“We want to do as much research as we can. This is all uncharted territory,” Yerges added. “A lot of it has to do with technology and making it kid-friendly. It’s not just selling things off the shelf.”

Gentine said the grant should make it possible to begin work on the two upperfloor apartments planned for the building. “We’d love to see somebody in those by January or February.”

Yerges also updated the RDA on the cityowned vacant building at 31 E. Mill St.

The city has not renewed the for-sale listing with a local realtor, Yerges said.

The recently-completed reconstruction of the Mill Street portion of State 67 has negatively impacted the property, according to Yerges.

The reconstructed street was lowered in front of the property with a higher curb, making it impossible to access the driveway west of the building from the street, Yerges noted. That eliminates any possible off-street parking on the property and could make selling it even more of a challenge, he said.

The city has initiated action to seek compensation from the state Department of Transportation for taking the driveway, Yerges said. “They understand there is an issue and the issue needs to be resolved.”

Downtown Manager Randy Schwoerer reported to the RDA to the first-ever Family Fun Event planned for downtown this Saturday, July 18.

The event, which will feature a “Touch a Truck” display and other children’s activities, a food court and a Grand Prix of Cheese fund-raiser, will benefit the Plymouth Police Department K-9 unit, the Plymouth Fire Department’s new truck fund and Project Angel Hugs.

Schwoerer noted that he has one year left on his position, which was funded for two years on a grant from the Lakeshore Community Foundation.

RDA member and downtown business owner Carole O’Malley asked what could be done to extend the position.

“If this was effective and was something the people in downtown Plymouth thought was benefitting their businesses, ideally they would choose to form a BID (business improvement district) and the BID would then pay for the cost of a downtown manager,” Gentine replied.

Schwoerer, who served as a BID manager in the city of Sheboygan in the past, offered to have a BID expert attend the next Downtown Plymouth Association meeting to explain the process and possible implementation.

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